Selecting the "Right" Therapeutic School or Program
Determining The "Right" Place To Meet Your Child's Needs Choosing the right place for your child is an important step in getting the help he or she needs. To many parents it appears there are a multitude of options that can seem overwhelming. Others may feel there are no options and don't know where to turn.
The members of the National Association of Therapeutic Schools and Programs offer a variety of different schools and programs. For further definition of the facilities available to you, please go to our NATSAP Program Definitions.
Our members are located in over 30 states, east to west, north to south. The ages served range from under 12 years old up to 25 years old. Your options will include the age range the school/program serves as well as gender specific or coed.
What's the First Step?
We strongly advise parents to seek professional assistance in the placement of their child. A professional can evaluate your child to determine the core issues he or she is struggling against. With this information, the professional can provide assistance in the placement of your child by communicating with the Admissions and Clinical personnel at our member programs. Often a professional has personal knowledge of the school / program he or she is recommending for placement. If you engage in consultation, make certain that the professional has experience placing children in residential programs and that they have some training and visitation of therapeutic programs before relying on their advice.
Where Do I Find Professional Assistance?
A list of Related Organizations can be found on this website. For those professionals and families who have not had occasion to travel to the programs listed in our directory, please be aware that members of the Independent Educational Consultants Association (IECA) are required to visit dozens of programs each year. They would be pleased to work with you on specific placements.
What Do We Look For In A School / Program?
These factors are very important when looking for a school or program:
- Verify the licensure or accreditation of the facility. If they are not licensed or accredited, they should be able to articulate reasons they are not. For example, some states do not have appropriate licensure categories for therapeutic schools or residences, or in some states the program is better described as a private school than as a treatment program. They should also be able to describe the process they use to evaluate the work they do. A list of Accrediting Agencies can be found on this website.
- Confirm the licensure of the clinical / therapy staff. If the state in which the program resides does not require licensure, it is important to research the credentials of the staff. Verify the credentials are appropriate to the treatment they propose to offer; e.g. if they have individual or group therapy, is it provided by individuals with appropriate advance degrees (MSW, LCSW, Ph.D. MD, etc.)?
- Verify that the academic curriculum is accredited by a recognized academic accrediting body. Are the teachers qualified by credential or experience to teach the courses the school / program offers?
- If counseling is offered, is it provided by staff that are full time employees of the program or is it provided by adjunct or independent personnel? If the latter, is the cost included in the program's tuition or is there an additional fee for this service?
- Obtain multiple sources of information about the program / school prior to enrollment. For example, you can ask for references from past clients, obtain the recommendation of a professional educational consultant and, if at all possible, visit the program / school to determine if you are comfortable with the environment, culture, methods employed, and general assessment of staff, students and climate of the school.
- If you visit the program / school, ask to speak to current students without a staff present and ask the students what their experience is like. Ask each student what they have gained from the program, what they like the most and what they like the least.
- Inquire about outcomes. There is little good data on outcome, but ask what efforts the program has made to assess how they are doing and to improve their performance. Ask how they assess student improvement and determine readiness for advancement or graduation.
- Ask for an estimate of program length and what factors determine readiness to complete the program.
- Ask about the program's philosophy of change and methods of discipline.
- Family involvement is an important factor at all of our member schools / programs. It is an essential component of your child's recovery process. Therefore, we recommend that, no matter what your choice, ensure that family involvement is a key part of the program.
- Ask about any restrictions on family communication and visitation.
- Most programs have a "level" system or series of steps in the program that determine progress and privileges. Ask for a description of the program's "levels" or stages of progress.
- Ask about the range of options at the completion of the program.
- It is important to understand that there is a long continuum of care for struggling children. Any particular program is usually simply one step in a long process of helping a child mature and address the emotional/psychological/behavioral problems that lead to residential placement.
There are regional and national accreditation agencies that are recognized in this industry; for example
1. JCAHO (Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations);
2. CARF (Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities);
3. COA (Council on Accreditation).
Therapeutic Boarding Schools may be accredited by an academic accreditation body, such as
1. Northwest Association of Schools and Colleges;
2. PNAIS, (Pacific Northwest Association of Independent Schools);
3. NCA CASI (North Central Association Commission on Accreditation and School Improvement)
4. NIPSA (National Independent Private Schools Association) or
5. State Education Accreditation Boards.
Reprinted with the permission of the National Association of Therapeutic Schools and Programs. © NATSAP.
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